Recently produced by the Meat Industry Association (MIA), a new booklet ‘Unlocking Value’ unveils a series of facts about the New Zealand meat business and its importance to the New Zealand economy.
The meat processing sector is New Zealand’s largest manufacturing industry, the booklet shows, exporting 86 percent of its production and employing over 25,000 people. At $6.3 billion, it is also New Zealand’s second largest merchandise exporter and exports are growing at an annual rate of eight percent in USD terms.
The booklet sets out five broad policy areas where MIA believes Government can make some changes to assist the industry: workforce; regulation; environment; innovation; and trade, explains MIA trade and economic manager Phil Houlding who was involved in its development.
“The aim is to demonstrate to politicians from all parties that ours is a progressive and modern industry that they can all work with.”
Long-term innovation strategy
Innovation is key for the whole New Zealand food industry. “The meat industry is constantly investing in new approaches and methods, such as the robotics programme and internationally ground-breaking work into bacteriophages, to maintain its competitive edge,” says Houlding.
Industry would like to see Government developing a long-term innovation strategy, along with a government-funded food safety research programme, and a commitment to continue co-funding industry research programmes, like the Primary Growth Partnerships and the MIA-facilitated Ovine Automation initiative.
Meat industry major employer
As a major New Zealand employer, workforce issues are also of great importance. Recent meat industry initiatives in the area have included the Meat Industry Industry Health and Safety Programme, which resulted in new industry guidelines, endorsed by MIA members and the Meat Workers Union. Several companies also run wellness programmes amongst their workers.
The meat industry wants reassurance that Worksafe New Zealand will use accurate and verifiable data when assessing workplace risks and making policy, according to Houlding. In addition, with a shortage in New Zealand of religiously qualified staff for halal meat production, meat employers are calling for a special immigration programme to be introduced specifically for Muslim slaughterers. The industry is also seeking a reduction in the levy paid by Accredited Employers, to ensure that they are not cross-subsidising the general work levy paid by standard employers.
Regulation: efficient and cost-effective
Regulation delivers value by enabling access to markets and maintaining New Zealand’s good reputation as a trusted food producer. However, the meat sector – as one of the most heavily regulated industries in New Zealand – pays the Government directly for these services so it is important that they are delivered efficiently and cost-effectively.
MIA believes that regulation should outline the desired outcomes and then companies be allowed to develop innovative processes to meet them – with regular independent auditing. It asks Government to make sure that New Zealand’s regulatory system continues to be seen as modern best practice internationally and that the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is properly and sufficiently resourced.
Another goal for government is to ensure import biosecurity regulations are science and risk-based and meet relevant international standards.
With the meat industry exporting hundreds of different products worth a total of $6.3 billion to over 120 countries in 2013, enhancing access to markets is essential. The MIA would like to see New Zealand’s regulatory systems recognised as equivalent by major markets, continuation of the aggressive free trade agreement agenda to address both tariff and non-tariff barriers and ensuring that New Zealand continues to take leadership roles in international standard-setting bodies.
Good environmental performance but risks remain
The last, but not least, of the areas of interest to MIA members is the environment. The booklet shows that since the 1970s the meat industry has reduced the amount of energy required to process a tonne of meat by 34 percent, its fossil fuel use has reduced by 47 percent and water use has dropped by 27 percent, and since 1990 that the carbon footprint of lamb production has reduced by 22 percent and that of beef production by 12 percent.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says that New Zealand’s sheep and beef industry is one of the most efficient and environmentally benign livestock industries in the world.
While water issues do not loom as large for the meat industry as for others (meat plants are typically subject to Council consent processes), there is a risk that plants’ future activity will be constrained by Regional Council decision-making. MIA is therefore calling for government to include ‘economic development’ as a national value that has to be considered in water management, alongside environmental matters, explains Houlding.
MIA is also asking for sufficient time for industry to respond to any changes in water management regimes and for consistent science to bind water management regimes across the country.
Copies of Unlocking Value are available for download at www.mia.co.nz.
This article has appeared in Food NZ magazine (August/September 2014) and is reproduced here with permission.